CEISMC hosts professional development sessions at Georgia Tech to support teachers in the implementation of Code.org CS curriculums
Feb 15, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
Educators throughout Georgia recognize the growing demand for innovators in computer science (CS) fields. However, it is challenging to prepare the next generation of computational thinkers when many K-12 teachers are not specifically trained to teach the subject.
That is why Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating, Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) is a regional partner of Code.org, a nonprofit founded in 2013 that seeks to expand access to computer science for K-12 students. Together, CEISMC and Code.org offer professional development sessions that help K-12 teachers who often have little or no background in CS prepare to offer CS courses at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
In these sessions, CEISMC provides support to Georgia computer science teachers and trains facilitators of the Code.org curriculums, which are publicly available online. The training alleviates fears that many teachers may have of teaching a subject they do not have much experience with.
Once enrolled in the program, teachers come to Georgia Tech for a five-day intensive summer workshop. After the workshop, the teachers receive additional long-term support through quarterly just-in-time follow-on training sessions.
Last year, CEISMC trained 70 teachers statewide. The center aims to establish teams of Code.org facilitators across the state so that Georgia Tech remains a hub for professional development, but travel does not hinder educators from other parts of the state from receiving CS education support.
The professional development offered by CEISMC will also indirectly help teachers prepare for a new required certification test that the state of Georgia has introduced for computer science educators.
Chris Thompson, director of CEISMC’s partnership with Code.org, believes that computational thinking is a fundamental skill that is demanded even in fields outside of computer science. Students can be introduced to this kind of thinking by learning about algorithms.
“You use algorithms in mathematics, in diagramming a sentence, in writing a story,” Thompson said. A common way to introduce students to the concept of algorithms is by breaking down the steps of making a sandwich. Mapping out that process helps students apply algorithms to other subjects.
“You learn to think logically; what are the individual steps, what order and sequence do things have to happen in? If you make an algorithm and it doesn’t work, you have to go back and debug it and find out what your problem is,” Thompson said. “Those are all skills that benefit a student whether they become a computer scientist or not.”
Computer science also opens up new avenues for students to express themselves creatively. Thompson cites surveys demonstrating that many children want to learn computer science in school, and that their parents want them to learn it, too.
“The demand is out there,” Thompson said, “so if it benefits students, why not find a way to give them an opportunity to learn it?”
Code.org has evolved and expanded in the last five years. It now has partners in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and its curriculum is used in over 180 countries. With this growth, Code.org partners have transitioned to a fee-for-service professional development model. The curriculum remains free for any teacher or school to use. Fees collected by CEISMC in the future will allow the organization to continue offering professional development opportunities to teachers throughout Georgia. Scholarships are available to schools with high numbers of underrepresented minorities or free and reduced lunch students.
These trainings are critical not only because they support computer science teachers, but also because both Code.org and CEISMC place a particular emphasis on expanding participation of students who are girls or underrepresented minorities in STEM.
“Equity is a big piece of what Code.org looks at,” Thompson said. “There are factors in the curriculum that are designed to make it equitable and appealing to students. It doesn’t matter what your background in computer science is; it tries to put everybody on a level playing field.”
Many teachers also find the Code.org curriculum appealing.
“Code.org’s platform is the most complete I have ever used and has made teaching computer science not only easy, but very enjoyable,” said John McDonald, a technology teacher at Rossville Middle School in Northwest Georgia. “CEISMC has been a leader in education within the state of Georgia for many years and it is no surprise that they have brought such a quality program to the educators in our state.”
Thompson believes Code.org is a great resource for equitable computer science education; however, he also advises teachers and schools to use the computer science curriculum that works best for their individual needs – whether it is Code.org or another curriculum. CEISMC is available to provide support to teachers and schools no matter which CS curriculum they choose.
Applications are open for slots in the CEISMC Code.org professional development sessions that begin in summer of 2019. Middle and high school teachers can find application information here.
Written by: Rosemary Pitrone - CEISMC Communications